: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings
That’s the Merriam-Webster definition for Empathy, applied mostly to humans that is. I believe Empathy to be the highest form of a primal instinct by which we care about our kin. It is something as ancient as we are so imbuing it into some other thing as life-changing as Technology seems rather natural and highly feasible. Alas, it is neither.
Something that’s becoming a more obvious question each time it is asked is: what do we really want to achieve through the research and fabrication of Technology? I do not mean the answer is more obvious, but rather the question is becoming more and more relevant specially as Technology becomes easier to consume and use. Some advancements of this era are without a doubt, amazing. Some others bring up ethical debates, and there are some that are just either ridiculous, scary or even impossible to understand by common people.
Up to the late ’80s, Technology’s Universe was not really big: it was too chunky, expensive, big and impossible to understand for the regular person. It was more industrial and theoretical. It’s use was limited to providing tools or services that made people’s life easier. The approach was rather pragmatical and I’m guessing back then people did not expect more out of Technology. Before that time, households had only what they needed (as in appliances and entertainment) and nothing was portable as it was just not needed, nor invented.
Our relationship with Technology was that of a service: once consumed or used, it was over. That changed though as Technology around communications and user experience became more and more important. Just think of it: the phone was a great invention that lasted for decades and eventually it was economical enough for every family in a developed country to have one, as was the radio and eventually the TV. Yet they only became massive when we started engaging them differently. At one point content and not just the medium became relevant: we began developing a relationship with the Technology that served us.
And with engagement comes expectation as in any normal exchange: you give, and you expect to receive and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I believe we just don’t get enough out of Technology yet. Not that it has stopped providing us with the service of making our lives easier (really?), and it definitely hasn’t stopped surprising us. We engage it way more than any of our ancestors. We do so in such a way that our expectations grow bigger yet Technology just can’t provide the one thing we expect it to at one point: a court nod, a pat in the back or the hug that Empathy comes with.
It doesn’t matter how Intelligent A.I. is turning, or how Big data is getting. The Internet of All is just a name. Truth be told, there’s still a lot to be done before Technology can understand us or be empathic. That alone should comfort and challenge everyone: it means that if Empathy is that far away for Technology, so is the apocalyptic world where Robots dominate us or the much desired one where can cure Cancer or Starvation.
The question prevails. Can Technology achieve the quality of being Empathetic? We can’t quite know yet, I doubt even top scientists or theorists can, the reason being simple:
To perceive is to suffer.
Bonus video: here’s the best possible explanation of what Empathy is in an animated representation of Brené Brown’s “The power of Empathy”